A 50-year-old French Movie That I Keep Thinking About
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, is a 1964 film by French director Jacques Demy. It is a perfect package of music, romance, style and everything great about France. Major spoilers ahead. Like, the whole movie.
- •Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a musical where every single line of dialogue is sung - like, even "Hey, please pass the salt." The songs were composed by Michel Legrand.
- •The movie was a big hit in the U.S. and made a star of actress Catherine Deneuve, who was 21 years old.
- •Deneuve's costar was a 27-year-old Italian actor named Nino Castelnuovo.
- •Deneuve and Castelnuovo may be one of the most purely beautiful onscreen couples ever. The (many) scenes of Deneuve staring into Castelnuovo's eyes with giddy intoxication are simply heart-pounding.
- •I mean, come on. Do you know what it feels like to have someone so beautiful look at you this way?
- •The story concerns Guy and Genevieve, a young couple from the town of Cherbourg, experiencing first love. Genevieve’s mother, Madame Emery, does not approve. She warns Genevieve that Guy will abandon her.
- •Guy learns that he’s being shipped off to war. The night before he leaves, Guy and Genevieve sing the movie’s most famous song, “I Will Wait For You.” They make love for the first time.
- •Months later, Guy has not kept up his promise to write back to Genevieve’s letters. It appears that Madame Emery was correct in dismissing their “great love.” Genevieve breaks down and admits to her mother that she’s pregnant.
- •And then this suave son of a bitch steps in – Roland Cassard, played by Marc Michel. He professes his love for Genevieve, offers to marry her and is willing to raise Guy’s child as his own.Tell me a more spectacular introduction than handing someone your card and announcing, "Roland Cassard, diamond dealer."
- •Now if this were an American movie, Roland Cassard would be the slick bad guy who you hope doesn’t get in the way of our “perfect couple.” In the third act, you’d find out that Roland is secretly a bastard, and you’d cheer when Guy punches him out. But this is a French movie.Thank God.
- •Roland Cassard is AWESOME. He fulfills his promise to marry Genevieve.I love Guy, but Roland's kind of the hero of the movie.
- •Of course, Guy comes back to Cherbourg - wounded and traumatized by the war - and has his own, amazing journey that leads him to Madeleine (played by Ellen Farner, also impossibly beautiful).
- •The movie ends six years later, on Christmas Eve. Guy and Genevieve run into each other on a snowy night – both married to other people; both with children. (Genevieve's daughter, of course, is Guy's, but they don't talk about that.)
- •They share a brief exchange. Then Genevieve drives away. Guy goes back inside to joyfully spend Christmas Eve with his wife and son, and I’m a sobbing wreck.
- •There’s a theme in this and other work by Demy: Life is full of love and color and music and dancing and sex and joy, but there is also the potential for violence. Violence that erupts, crushes our dreams, and moves on.
- •Demy shows that when tragedy occurs, good people will step forward to help the survivors. And together, they can forge a new life. And it will be beautiful. The beauty of life is more powerful than the violence.
- •This weekend, I am so grateful for Jacques Demy and his incredible movie!